10 May 2017
New study shows MDWs woes on unsuitable accommodation, lack of privacy and insufficient amenities
3 of 5 MDWs sleep in room with multiple functions, or other alternative spaces
A recently concluded research Mission for Migrant Workers (MFMW) released today, revealed unsuitable accommodation arrangements, denial of privacy and deprivation of amenities for migrant domestic workers (MDWs) persist in Hong Kong
The research entitled “PICTURES FROM THE INSIDE: Investigating Living Accommodation of Women Foreign Domestic Workers towards Advocacy and Action” was conducted to provide real descriptions of how MDWs live inside households for more concrete policy change recommendations.
The launch coincides with the celebration of International day of Families as observed annually by the United Nations every 15th of May. The International Day hopes to promote awareness on issues concerning families including social, economic and demographic processes that affect families. We believe that the issue of space and accommodations for migrant domestic workers needs to be tackled as it surely affects the prospects for harmonious and productive relationships between families and the domestic workers who live and serve them.
On conditions of accommodations
The mandatory live-in arrangement by the HK Immigration Department puts MDWs in different accommodation conditions that they have to endure.
- 3 out of 5 MDWs in Hong Kong either endure alternative accommodation arrangements or their designated bedroom serves other multiple functions in the household
- While more than half the MDWs in Hong Kong (57%) are provided with their own room, 33% of them also said that their “own room” is also used to double as house storage area (64%), space to hang clothes (49%), room for ironing and washing (45), computer or study room or office (3), and a room for pets (1%).
- Of those who are not provided with their own room (43%), 1 in every 50 of them sleeps in areas such as toilets, storage rooms, stock room or warehouse, backdoor, basement, balcony, roof, computer room, study room, music room, closet, dressing room, or in a room with just a divider for her sleeping space
According to an MDW who participated in the focus group discussions, they are “forced to accept because whether I like it or not, I have no choice because there is no space in my employer’s house Because I know the answer will be, there is no space in her house.”
Another said that, “We agree because we need to earn money. If we disagree, of course, we’re sent to the agency or we’re sent to go back home, right? Just to agree.”
One MDW said that, “I feel I don’t have privacy because I feel uncomfortable because my employer can enter my room anytime.”
Another MDW lamented that, “If you ask me ‘Do I have my room?” I will answer ‘Yes’. But I tell you that even if I have my own room, I feel I never have privacy.”
Lack of privacy also makes women MDWs feel vulnerable especially if they sleep in common areas as the living room and make their rest/sleep uncomfortable.
- While they are said to have their own room, 47% of them do not have their own key to the room while one-third of employers (35%) enter their room even without their consent
- Most employers do not rummage through the personal belongings of MDWs but 2 out of every 25 employers do without the consent of the domestic worker
On basic and rightful amenities
- Around 32,000 MDWs (14%) do not have ready access to toilets while 67% do not have their own toilets
- There is prevalence of non-provision of amenities such as air conditioning or electric fans during summer (33%) or heating amenity during winter (56%).
- Lack of ventilation where they sleep also poses a health hazard to 10% of MDWs
- 1 of every 10 MDWs are also not provided with beddings as stipulated in the standard contract
Make MDW accommodation more humane, dignified and at par with human rights standards
The study concluded that problems regarding accommodation arrangements among MDWs – anchored in the mandatory live-in arrangement – are widespread and varied. Even the quality of accommodation of those provided with a bedroom is compromised as the room is often used for other purposes.
Alternative accommodation arrangements are unhealthy, inhumane and violate even the already insufficient standards set by Hong Kong in its Standard Employment Contract. This minimum standard also lack mechanisms for effective enforcement.
Carnay also pointed out accommodation policies and conditions in Hong Kong for MDWs do not measure up with international human and labor standards, and way behind policies of other countries and cities with a concentration of MDWs.
The group recommended for the Hong Kong government to take the following steps:
- Define and expound “suitable accommodation” in the Standard Employment Contract by listing down guidelines on what are unsuitable accommodation arrangements for MDWs.
- Institutionalize regulatory and monitoring mechanisms wherein submitted accommodation arrangement of employers are actually realized.
- Develop complaint system for migrant workers to address issues of accommodations.
- Analyze and align Hong Kong policy according to international standards as well as other best practices around the world.
- Ratify ILO Convention No. 189 to protect domestic workers from further human rights and dignity abuses.
- Reconsider the live-in requirement and make live-out an option for MDWs and their employers depending on specific circumstances of the households.
About the Research
Conducted through a survey of more than 3,000 FDWs and several focus group discussions among Filipino and Indonesian migrants, the study “PICTURES FROM THE INSIDE: Investigating Living Accommodation of Women Foreign Domestic Workers towards Advocacy and Action” was conducted to contribute to knowledge-based policy changes for MDWs.
The research was made possible thru the support of HER Fund and was part of the continuing advocacy of the MFMW for OPTIONAL live-in arrangements for employers and their domestic workers.
About the MFMW
The Mission For Migrant Workers (MFMW Limited) of the St. John’s Cathedral is a leading and trusted service provider and partner of Asian migrants and a committed advocate in building a caring and inclusive Hong Kong society.
Established in 1981, the MFMW believes that migrant workers as integral to but marginalized in Hong Kong, deserve care, respect and protection of their rights. MFMW provides crisis assistance services to MDWs in distress, empowers their communities, promotes harmony in households and works for a more multicultural and inclusive Hong Kong.
For reference: Norman Uy Carnay
Program Coordinator, Lead Researcher
Tel. No. +852-96472567
For Cantonese: Johannie Tong Hiu-yan
Community Relations Officer
Tel. No. +852-6306-9599